From: Crossroads 12-98
Ways That Are Dark
Elephant Rock, (888) 685-9665
by: Jonathan Colcord
Horace Kephart was archiving the lives of mountain folk in his own way
through writing and photography well before people like Alan Lomax, or Moses Asch started
recording the music of those people. This CD is a musical journey inspired by Kephart’s
book Our Southern Highlanders published originally in 1913 and put together by Daniel Gore.
Following the stories of those he knew in North Carolina, Kephart retold stories of illegal
liquor as it related to taxes, family-feuds, and the Native American population of that region.
A studded cast of bluegrass regulars dot this recording. Gore authored
all of the songs on the CD but he seems to have ingeniously crafted each song for the
performers involved with each. Peter Rowan is the most present, contributing vocals and guitar
to many songs. Tim O’Brien’s handling of the song makes it sound like one of the many he has
penned himself. The same goes for the Rowan cuts. With the title song Ways That Are Dark,
Gore has even included a line often uttered by Rowan via Bill Monroe such as in the chorus with
the phrase ancient tones: There are ways that are dark as a leaf from the past, ancient tones
haunt the hollers and the coves. There are bones of the raven that flew from Noah’s Ark. In
the hills there are ways that are dark. The song placement on the CD is such that the
storyline of one song often seems to directly relate to the next such as Noah’s raven, In The
Snakestick Man and A Sugarland Raid, the theme is first the arrest of local Cherokee in a trade
of goods for liquor by the government tax men - - carved snake head canes. Following, in the
song A Sugarland Run we revisit the snakestick theme again.
The flow is a
great mixture of Monroe-style bluegrass and some Scotch-Irish inspired folk music, Mary Miller
adds some wonderful lead vocals to French Broad written once again by Gore and sounding much
like a traditional song. Miller also sings beautiful harmony with Rowan on songs such as The
Snakestick Man which has a waltz melody and beautiful twin-fiddling from Rickie Simpkins on
both fiddles. Other fine musicians here include Tony Williamson, Jack Lawrence, Craig Smith,
and other notables. Gore truly knew what he was dong on this project and even took a backseat
to performers he lined up, himself playing on only a few pieces. Enough cannot be said about
this incredible project. Just go get it and devour it.